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Community Light Rail Retro Transit

Staff preserving transit of today and yesterday 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, July 07, 2016 2:51:00 PM

Signals Foreperson Mike Miller inside the Winona Streetcar No. 10 currently being restored in Excelsior.Mike Miller was studying electronics when he paid his first visit to the newly-opened Como-Harriet Streetcar Line in south Minneapolis.

Immediately intrigued, he began working alongside volunteers committed to keeping Streetcar No. 1300, a vestige of Twin City Rapid Transit that once ran on University Avenue, operating between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun.

Nearly 40 years later Miller is helping bring yet another piece of streetcar history back to life, spending several hours a week wiring and installing electrical components on a streetcar that operated in Winona from 1913 through 1938.

A small group of Minnesota Streetcar Museum volunteers began meticulously restoring the streetcar a decade ago. Freshly painted pumpkin orange and cream, the Winona No. 10 streetcar is expected to make its public debut on a short stretch of track near downtown Excelsior later this year.

“It really is a strikingly handsome car,” Miller said recently from the carbarn where the streetcar and others in various states of repair are kept.

Miller’s involvement in the project is a study in contrasts: by day, he works as a Signal Foreperson ensuring the lights, signals and sensors along the region’s presentday light rail lines are operating as intended.

But while there are clear differences — light-rail cars feed off of 3,000-amp substations while the Excelsior streetcar line uses a 300-amp power supply — there are also plenty of parallels. 

A box tucked beneath a passenger seat will house an alarm panel similar to those found on light-rail vehicles. Miles of wiring connect relays, sensors and fuses that control the doors, lights and bells. And a custom-designed control panel mounted in the cab allows the operator to quickly troubleshoot while in service.

The streetcar retains its authentic feel, but the wiring provides modern-day protections that improve safety and reliability. 

“When I talk about what I’m doing with colleagues at work, they say ‘You’re not restoring a streetcar, you’re building a light-rail vehicle,’” said Miller, who began in Metro Transit’s radio shop in 2001. “Well, almost.”

Miller isn’t the only Metro Transit staffer with a foot in the old and new worlds of transportation. 

Bus operator Fred Beamish and Senior Planner John Dillery volunteer as streetcar operators on the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line. Senior Signal Engineer Phil Wellman and Engineering & Facilities Intern Ryan Heath serve on the St. Paul’s Minnesota Transportation Museum’s Board of Directors.

Wellman’s grandfather and great-grandfather each worked in the railroad industry and he began volunteering at the museum while still in high school, scraping grease from old locomotives.

Senior Signal Engineer Phil Wellman on one of the locomotives operated by the Minnesota Transportation Museum.The work led him to a job as an entry-level Signals Systems Draftsman and, in 2003, to his joining Metro Transit’s fledgling Signals Department. The locomotives the museum operates between Osceola, Wisc. and Marine on St. Croix, Minn., are decades old but Wellman said there are still similarities to the work he does at Metro Transit.

“I’m very comfortable working in both worlds and there are a lot of parallel principles so it’s fun to crossover,” Wellman said.

Several Metro Transit retirees are also actively engaged in the preservation of Minnesota’s transportation history.

Retired Mechanic-Technician Howie Melco, whose grandfather was a streetcar operator, became involved in the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line when he was 19 years old and has used his craftsmanship to help bring several streetcars back to life over the years.

On the Winona streetcar, he carefully sliced off the bottom eight inches of the body, replacing it seamlessly with new material and applying layers of glossy paint. “It’s getting exciting toward the end here,” Melco said.

Aaron Isaacs, who worked at Metro Transit from 1973 to 2006, has written extensively about the region’s streetcar history and leads the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, which operates both the Como-Harriet and Excelsior lines.

The Como-Harriet streetcar barn was recently expanded to provide space for another streetcar and a collection of streetcar history.

For Miller, the Signal Foreperson, the decades spent volunteering with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum are both inspiring and rewarding. He’s especially proud of the Winona restoration, his biggest undertaking to date. Miller estimates the project will command at least 1,000 hours of his time before completion.

“Sooner or later this thing is going to run,” he said. “I look forward to saying I helped make it happen.”

 
 
A Line BRT Bus Community METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Minneapolis St. Paul State Fair

A Line opening sparks curiosity, enthusiasm 

| Tuesday, June 14, 2016 8:38:00 AM

Customers board the A Line at Snelling and University avenues on Saturday, June 11.Car free for the last five years, Michelle Quaranto relies on transit to travel between her home near the Green Line’s Raymond Avenue Station and her job in Eagan.  

So when the A Line opened on Saturday, she was eager to see how her commute would change once she was able to begin using the region’s first rapid bus service.

In the past, Quaranto took Route 84 between the Green Line’s Snelling Avenue Station and the Blue Line’s 46th Street Station. The A Line now offers faster, more frequent service between those two points.

“I really rely on transit to make my life better,” Quaranto said before boarding at Snelling and University avenues shortly after the A Line opened on Saturday, June 11. “Taking light rail to the 84 was usually my quickest option, and now it will be even quicker which is great.”

Several others who ventured out for their inaugural rides on the A Line were similarly excited about its arrival and the impact it would have on their daily travels.           

The first of a dozen planned rapid bus lines, the A Line runs between Rosedale Center and the Blue Line’s 46th Street Station on Snelling Avenue, Ford Parkway and 46th Street. Service runs every ten minutes and trips are up to eight minutes faster than regular route buses.

Trips are sped up through a combination of light-rail like features like off-board fare payments, technology that lets A Line buses request longer green lights at intersections and by locating stations a half-mile apart.

A Line stations also have heat, light, displays with real-time NexTrip transit information and security features more commonly found on light-rail.

“It really is kind of like riding a train,” said North St. Paul resident David Hull as he and his wife Roseanne traveled southbound from Rosedale Center for the first time.

Hull’s family of five shares two vehicles, so he was curious to see if he could relieve some of the demand by taking the A Line and the Blue Line to a new job at the Veteran’s Administration.

Tyler Schow, a downtown Minneapolis resident who frequently rides transit, noticed a difference even before boarding. “My favorite part is that you can see the bus coming from a distance and instead of stopping it just keeps coming,” Schow said.  

Bus operators picking up A Line customers for the first time were also enjoying the ride. “What I like about it is it’s very fluid,” Operator Roosevelt Scott said.           

Others trying out the A Line said it would make them more likely to explore the businesses along the corridor. Rosedale Center, Har Mar Mall, the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Macalester College, Hamline University, Highland Park and Minnehaha Park are among the destinations served by the A line. The site of a planned major league soccer stadium is also located at University and Snelling avenues. 

“I like to explore different areas and this is a great way to do that,” said Onrai Terrell who ventured to the A Line’s opening from Eagan by taking the METRO Red Line, a Bus Rapid Transit service on Cedar Avenue, and the Blue Line.

Ted Davis, of the Midway Chamber of Commerce, touched on the importance of transit in attracting new businesses, workers and residents as he joined others celebrating the A Line’s opening . “This is how we compete on a global scale, by creating the kinds of places people want to come to,” he said.

Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb said a network of rapid bus lines would extend the benefits across the region. A planned network of 12 rapid bus lines on busy urban corridors could ultimately account for a third of Metro Transit’s average weekday ridership.

Construction on the next rapid bus line, the C Line on Penn Avenue, is scheduled to begin in 2018

“If you can’t figure out how to move people and not just vehicles, we’re not going to achieve what we want to achieve in this region,” Lamb said. 


Metro Transit A Line Opening Day

A Line BRT Bus Minneapolis

'Night Owl' service expanding to serve late-night commuters 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, June 09, 2016 12:20:00 PM

Overnight service is being added to routes 10 and 18 beginning Saturday, June 11. Routes 10 and 18 will join a growing network of routes with 24-hour service beginning Saturday, June 11. 

On Route 10, trips between downtown Minneapolis and the Columbia Heights Transit Center will be added at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. On Route 18, trips between downtown Minneapolis and 48th Street and Nicollet Avenue will be added at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.

The service improvements come after overnight trips were added to routes 64 and 74 earlier this year. Routes 5 and 19, and the METRO Green Line also provide "Night Owl" service, with trips throughout the overnight hours.

Cyndi Harper, Manager of Route Planning, said the service improvements will benefit commuters traveling to or from work during the overnight hours.    

“As we become more of a 24-7 economy, it is important that transit users can access jobs at non-traditional times, especially in the service industry, at hospitals and at the airport,” Harper said.

Among the other changes taking effect on Saturday, June 11:

Weekend service added to Route 30

Saturday and Sunday service will be added to Route 30. Trips will operator every hour from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., every half hour from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and every hour from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. each day. Route 30 was introduced nearly two years ago to provide a direct route between north and northeast Minneapolis. Ridership has continued to grow since its introduction.

A Line opens, Route 84 service reduced

Route 84 service will be reduced as customers can use the new rapid bus line, the A Line, which follows the same routing. Route 84 trips will operate every 30 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays; from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Buses will no longer travel west to Minneapolis but instead operate between the Rosedale Transit Center and the intersection of Shepard Road and Davern Street, in St. Paul.

The A Line will operate between 4 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. daily, with service every ten minutes throughout the day and every 30 minutes at night. Trips are expected to be up to 8 minutes faster than Route 84 service.

Running-time adjusted on express routes

Running time adjustments will be made on 31 routes that operate on the Marq2 corridor in downtown Minneapolis and five other routes. Schedules on routes 265 and 860 will also be adjusted to reflect the opening of the new MnPASS lanes on Interstate 35E.

Bus Retro Transit

A half-century later, career comes to a close 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, June 06, 2016 4:15:00 PM

Sy Sharp retired in early-2016 with more than 52 years of service in Metro Transit's Bus Maintenance department. Silas “Sy” Sharp never shied away from work.

After serving in the Korean War, he spent his days as a heavy equipment operator with the City of Minneapolis and his nights at the Minneapolis Athletic Club, full-time jobs that took 16 hours of his day even as he studied management at the University of Minnesota.

In 1963, on the advice of a club member who worked in transit, he took a job in bus maintenance at what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission, or MTC. For 22 years, he held full-time jobs with both the city and MTC.

Sharp retired from the city after 30 years, and in early 2016 retired from Metro Transit with 52 years of service – the longest tenure in agency history.

“I didn’t get much sleep sometimes – I averaged about three hours of sleep a night, four maybe,” Sharp, 80, said in a recent interview. “I’m the type of guy, I just love working.”                   

At 28 years old, Sharp began his career as a cleaner sweeping buses at the old Northside Garage in Minneapolis. He later became what was known as a “hostler,” fueling and moving buses around the garage.

His strong work ethic and history as a Sgt. in the Army led him to be recruited as a garage foreman, the first of several management positions he held in bus maintenance. Sharp also worked as a foreman at the old Snelling Garage and as the maintenance manager at the Nicollet and Martin J. Ruter garages.

Sharp is particularly proud of his time at Nicollet. The garage was underperforming, and he was challenged to turn around.

Under Sharp’s leadership, the garage made significant improvements. At one point, it exceeded bus reliability goals, measured as the average miles between road calls, for nearly two straight years. The garage later became home to Metro Transit’s first hybrid buses.

“There were a lot of people here who said it couldn’t be done,” Sharp said. “I said, ‘There’s no such thing as can’t,’ because that’s what I was taught. That it can be done if you apply yourself. And Nicollet went from being one of the worst to the best. I was very proud of that.”

Sharp credits his upbringing – he grew up on a Texas farm with strict parents – for teaching him to hold high standards. 

An ability to identify and leverage the talents of those around him and a commitment to recognizing staff when they did well also helped, Sharp said. (Hundreds of doughnuts were dispersed to staff throughout his career.)                    

Sharp was able to develop those relationships in part by making a point of being available to all his employees, arriving at work by 5 a.m. each morning and staying through mid-afternoon so he could see workers from all three shifts.

After devoting much of his life to work, Sharp said the decision to retire earlier this year was one of the most difficult he’s ever made. “To put your heart and soul into something for 52 years, then just quit doing it is very difficult,” he said.

Recently re-visiting Nicollet Garage, though, he seemed at peace with his decision, telling his former co-workers about his new pursuits, wishing them well in their own endeavors and inviting them to join him at an upcoming retirement celebration.

Months into his retirement, Sharp, is indeed settling into a new routine – sleeping in a few extra hours, working on his retirement home in Florida and spending more time with his family, including wife Mary, three daughters, two sons and 12 grandchildren.

“I’m happy I did it,” Sharp said as he reflected on his work life. “But I wouldn’t tell anybody else to do it because it’s a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work.”

    > A unique career: 50 years in transit

    > Sy Sharp reflects on 50 years of service [video]

Community METRO Green Line On the METRO

At Hamline Station, a welcome combination of affordable housing and transit 

| Monday, May 16, 2016 10:19:00 AM

ReJeana Hill moved into a new apartment at Hamline Station earlier this year so she could be close to the METRO Green Line. ReJeana Hill was waiting for a METRO Green Line train at Hamline Avenue Station when she spotted a newly-planted sign on the vacant lot across University Avenue.

Apartments coming soon, it said.

Eager to find an affordable place with more room and easy transit access, she took out her cell phone and dialed the number immediately. Even before her application had been approved, she started packing and telling friends she was moving.

Less than a year later, she and her husband Matt were among the first to take up residence in Hamline Station, a two-building development that opened in late 2015 with more than 100 efficiency, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Now settled into a third-floor apartment overlooking the station, she warmly receives guests and talks proudly about her new apartment, which she describes as “heaven sent.” She also talks glowingly about the Green Line – a lifeline for her and her husband, neither of whom drive.

“It’s like my own personal limo, right outside the door,” Hill said of the Green Line, which she regularly uses to run errands, get to appointments and travel to church.

Hill wasn’t the only one drawn to the combination of affordable, quality housing and transit access. More than 600 applications were received before Hamline Station opened and now, just months after opening, all of the apartments are occupied.

“There’s a strong demand for affordable housing in general, and even more so when it’s in a great location,” said Rick Dahlmeyer, a project manager with Project for Pride in Living.

Project for Pride in Living, or PPL, provides affordable housing and employment readiness. The Minneapolis-based non-profit led the effort to build the apartments on what had been a vacated auto dealership in the northeast corner of University and Hamline avenues.

Residents at Hamline Station earn 50 to 60 percent of the median income; 14 units have been reserved for individuals or families that recently experienced homelessness and are receiving support from two local service providers, Guild Incorporated and Clare Housing.

Support for the $28 million project came from the federal, state and local levels. The Metropolitan Council provided nearly $3.5 million in grant funds to help with site clean-up and land acquisition. U.S. Bank helped raise capital by investing in low-income housing tax credits.                       

Kent Carlson, who owned the property, made the land available for redevelopment and retains ownership of ground-floor retail space that will become home to several businesses.

While the arrangements were complex, Dahlmeyer said the end product is something residents, PPL and all of its partners can be proud of. And it’s not just the fact that it’s the largest project the Minneapolis-based non-profit has taken from start to finish.

With transit and a mix of stores, restaurants and other services nearby it is entirely possible for residents like Hill to forego owning a vehicle. Many of the development’s 50 underground parking spaces have been left unclaimed.

“This is really our flagship TOD (transit-oriented development) project,” Dahlmeyer said.

With its success on University Avenue, PPL hopes to build more affordable housing in Hopkins, near the site of a station on the proposed Green Line Extension. The Council and its partners are also working to advance more affordable housing along the Green Line corridor and other transitways.

Hill considers herself extremely fortunate and hopes those efforts provide others the same opportunity she’s had at Hamline Station. “This has been such a blessing for me and my husband, I just can’t believe it,” she said.

    > Learn more about Metro Transit's Transit Oriented Development office

    > Learn more about Council grants

    > Development along Green Line soars to more than $4 billion 

Bus Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Hector Espinoza 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, May 05, 2016 9:12:00 AM

Tired of his erratic hours working as a chef, Hector Espinoza went to the DMV picturing a job as an over the road truck driver. But when he ran into a friend there to get a license to become a bus operator, his outlook changed.

A decade later, Espinoza has earned a reputation as a skilled and well-liked bus operator with experience at a number of local transit providers. He’s spent the last five years working full-time at Metro Transit.

“The first time I drove during rush hour, I was nervous,” Espinoza said recently. “But when I got to the end of the route, the trainer got on the microphone and told the passengers it was my first day and I got a round of applause. Since then, everything has been nice and smooth.”

The transformation has indeed been a good one for Espinoza, who works out of Metro Transit’s South Garage in Bloomington.

Working as a bus operator has provided him a better work-life balance that allows more time with his wife, three sons and a daughter, superior pay and benefits and an optimistic outlook on his career.

    > Metro Transit is hiring operators! Learn more about career opportunities

He’s also developed a passion for working with the public, deliberately choosing busy urban routes where there are ample opportunities to interact.

“When I look in the mirror, I see people reading the paper, listening to music, looking at their phone and I think, ‘They’re all counting on me,’” Espinoza said. “I take that responsibility seriously. But I also enjoy the customers, the interaction, being outdoors and having all of the variety.”

Espinoza is sharing his experience as Metro Transit works to recruit more operators needed to support the agency’s growth and respond to a wave of retirements. He recently visited a south Minneapolis church where he spoke in front of the congregation about career opportunities.

A native of Ecuador who speaks Spanish, he’s particularly interested in letting Latinos know about what it means to work at Metro Transit.

“What I told them is that working here, it’s not just about being a bus operator,” Espinoza said. “If you like it, you can stay a bus operator for the rest of your career. But there are always more doors you can open.”

Many of Metro Transit’s managers and supervisors began their careers as operators; Espinoza hopes to follow a similar path.

For now, though, he’s focused on being the best operator he can be. And he’s doing a good job of it, too.

Espinoza has three years of safe driving and has placed in the top ten in each of Metro Transit’s annual Bus Roadeo competitions. Bus Roadeo tests operator’s skills through a series of driving and written tests.

“The first thing I care about is being safe,” Espinoza said. “Traffic is a challenge, but you just have to take it easy and not get too excited.”

Espinoza also takes pride in keeping a neat appearance, wearing a tie whenever he’s working (his co-workers have noticed, giving him the nickname “Hollywood”).

“I really take my job seriously, and try to be as professional as I can for the customers,” Espinoza said. “I look at it as a career at this point.”

Operator at a Glance

Name: Hector Espinoza

Hired: Feb. 6, 2010

Employee Number: 71095

Routes: Espinoza primarily drives urban local routes, including the 5, 4 and 6.

Garage: South Garage

Hobbies: Espinoza is active in his community, Apple Valley, and serves as a community soccer coach. He also enjoys playing volleyball and soccer and cooking.

To help you better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these 'Know Your Operator' profiles of train and bus operators. To suggest an operator for a future profile, please email ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org.

Bicycle Carpool Car-Sharing Community Go Green Rideshare Vanpool

Commuter Choice Awards recognize sustainable transportation leaders 

| Thursday, April 28, 2016 4:01:00 PM

Most days, Matt Privratsky gets to work by taking an hour-long walk from his Midway area home to downtown St. Paul. The 3.5-mile trek might also involve boarding a bus, catching the METRO Green Line or using a Nice Ride bike – or some combination of all of the above.

“Walking all the way helps you get mentally prepared, and it’s also very relaxing,” Privratsky said. “By the time I get home, I’m in a really nice relaxed mental state. And because I stay active as part of my day, I don’t need to intentionally exercise or have a gym membership.”

The multi-modal approach reflects the habits of many of his co-workers at Fresh Energy, a St. Paul-based independent non-profit that works to make Minnesota’s energy system cleaner and more efficient. Ninety percent of Fresh Energy’s staff walk, bike or take transit to work.

While sustainable transportation naturally aligns with Fresh Energy’s mission, it also reflects a robust transportation benefits program. Employees can earn $2 per day by walking or biking to work. Fresh Energy also matches employee spending on transit.

To help car-free employees like Privratsky get to appointments and meetings during the day, Fresh Energy subsidizes annual Nice Ride memberships and has accounts with car-sharing services car2go and HOURCAR.

Fresh Energy’s efforts were recognized this week at the Commuter Choice Awards, where employers, organizations and individuals who share a commitment to sustainable transportation were celebrated.

The annual awards were presented by Metro Transit in partnership with the region’s Transportation Management Organizations (TMOs) – Commuter ServicesAnoka County Commute SolutionsMove Minneapolis and St. Paul Smart Trips. A panel of Twin Cities transportation experts evaluated nominations in selecting the winners.

“Metro Transit is proud to recognize all those who share its commitment to sustainable transportation,” Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb said. “As these honors reflect, our region benefits from having a strong transit network as well as many other transportation options that provide alternatives to driving alone.”  

A list of awards presented at the 2016 Commuter Choice Awards is below. Learn how Metro Transit and the region's TMOs can help your organization here

Building Owner/Management Company: CenterPoint Energy

Directly adjacent to the Nicollet Mall Station, CenterPoint Energy’s new corporate headquarters provides employees convenient transit access. The move also presented an opportunity to create a new shared space for Meet Minneapolis and Move Minneapolis, which promotes transit, carpooling, biking and walking among downtown Minneapolis commuters, residents and visitors. The street-level retail space opened in 2015.

Honorable mention: Normandale Lake Office Park, Hines Property Management

Employer: Fresh Energy

Fresh Energy’s commitment to clean energy and sustainable transportation is reflected in the non-profit’s transportation benefits program. Employees can earn $2 per day by walking or biking to Fresh Energy’s St. Paul offices. Fresh Energy also matches employee spending on transit. To help employees travel to appointments and meetings during the day, Fresh Energy subsidizes annual Nice Ride memberships, has a business account with car2go and has a corporate account with HOURCAR. As a result of their comprehensive transportation benefits program, 90 percent of Fresh Energy staff walk, bike, or take transit to work.

Honorable mention: Barr Engineering Co., Sovos Compliance, Be the Match

Government Entity: St. Paul Public Housing Agency

The St. Paul Public Housing Agency has gone above and beyond to encourage active transportation among residents in its housing communities. Partnering with Cycles for Change, nearly 900 free bikes, helmets and locks have distributed to youth since 2012. Residents also have access to free Nice Ride memberships, bike repair stations and workshops on bicycle maintenance. Resident-led walking groups have also encouraged residents to move more and explore their neighborhoods.

Individual: Brian Nelson

Since taking over Best Buy’s commuter benefits program in 2015, Brian Nelson has worked to enhance and expand benefits for employees at the company’s Richfield headquarters and at locations across the country. Nelson advocated for and then helped to implement a pre-tax commuter benefit program that allows employees to pay for their transit costs with pre-tax dollars. The number of employees who use transit, carpool and vanpool have risen as a result of his efforts.

Honorable mention: Jeff Hainlen, Rebecca Airmet

Organization: Minnesota Life College

Minnesota Life College offers a three-year program for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other learning disorders. As part of their life skills training, instructors teach these individuals how to travel independently on transit. By building their skills and confidence, graduates have the freedom to get themselves to work and appointments, run errands and pursue their dreams.

Commuter Choice Awards 2016
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